Senior UN officials urge restraint, dialogue to defuse tensions fuelling protests in Ukraine

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

New York – Urging restraint amid widespread anti-Government protests in Ukraine, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called today for sustained and inclusive dialogue to defuse tensions in the country.

“The violent clashes over the past few days in the centre of Kiev, which reportedly resulted in many people being injured, are very worrying,” said Ms. Pillay. “I appeal to all parties to engage in constructive dialogue to avoid further escalation of the unrest.

“The longer they wait, the more difficult it will become to resolve the impasse,” she added.

Demonstrators have been gathering in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, since late November, when thousands marched on municipal buildings in protests reportedly sparked by a Government decision not to sign an agreement on broader integration with the European Union.

The demonstrations flared up again this week with violent clashes reported for a second consecutive night, according to the High Commissioner’s Office (OHCHR).

Last night, a spokesperson for Mr. Ban issued a statement in New York saying that the UN chief continues to follow “closely and with concern” these developments.

“He reiterates his appeal to all concerned to act with restraint, avoid any further escalation and violence and to uphold the democratic principles of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” according to the statement.

Noting renewed efforts by authorities to initiate dialogue with opposition leaders, Mr. Ban urged all parties to engage in “meaningful, sustained and inclusive dialogue.” He urged Ukrainians to mutually agree on the future path of their country.

Echoing these statements, Ms. Pillay noted that the demonstrations are taking place in the wake of legislation constricting conditions for the exercise of fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression, and imposes penalties, including prison sentences, for breaches. The laws were passed on 16 January and published today.

“I call on the authorities to suspend application of the laws to allow time for a thorough review of their content,” the High Commissioner said in her statement. She added that the laws must be in full compliance with international human rights standards, in particular Ukraine’s obligations under the relevant treaties it has ratified.

“I am particularly concerned by the potential that these laws have to curtail the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, the right to information, the right of civil society to work freely. The laws also have the potential to result in impunity for human rights violations,” she added.

Among its provisions, the law compels non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving international funding to register as “foreign agents,” to lose their non-profit status, and to regularly publish accounts of their activities.

“Such provisions will roll back the enjoyment of human rights for the people of Ukraine, stifle debate and dissent, and jeopardise the democratic achievements of the past two decades,” Ms. Pillay said.